Teaching and learning – we think they go hand in hand,
but sometimes, oddly enough, they’re at odds with
each other. Especially when it comes to early
We know that young children learn through play, not
through worksheets; with their whole bodies, not just
their eyes and ears; and through concrete experiences,
not discussions of abstract concepts. So where does
“teaching” fit into this?
Well, not very comfortably.
Young children need caring adults, fresh air, outdoor
play, stories, songs, and a variety of materials to
play with. They need to explore and create. But do
they need “teaching”? Maybe not so much.
A story: This week a group of three- to five-year-olds
and I were exploring making music with a tom-tom
type drum. I showed them a few ways it could be
played, and then we all took turns. I encouraged
them to try different ways to play. Well, one little
boy took the drum and unexpectedly announced,
“Ladies and gentlemen! Close your eyes!” Okay, I
thought. I closed my eyes and waited. “I will now
make a boom of thunder!” he said, and proceeded
to create a very impressive boom. The room
erupted in shrieks and laughter.
Now this is the dangerous point. This is where I could
step in and say, “Okay, let’s calm down.” or “Let’s not
get too silly.” or any number of creativity-squashing
directions. Thank goodness I had a more relaxed
attitude that particular day, because I was able to
enjoy and appreciate this moment, which led to many
more “out of the box” performances.
It got me thinking, though, how often we teachers nip
creative learning in the bud. We’re so afraid of losing
control of the classroom, so wary of the chaos which,
admittedly, lurks around every corner in preschool.
But children learn through play. And if we’re going to
commit to that, we have to be prepared for some
silliness, some loudness, for our “lesson plans” to
be gleefully stomped on. And the paradox: this group,
which is usually very rowdy and rambunctious, was
engaged and focused throughout the activity. A little
less teaching, a little more learning.